In the 14 years that Paul Ryan has been a Congressman from Southeastern Wisconsin, he has never had a challenger of any stature or a race of any significance. Janesville, his hometown and the heart of the district, has no TV stations and only a handful of small, scrappy newspapers. What an opportunity for a man of the people to take the highroad!
Ryan could have run every single one of his seven election cycles just like former U.S. Senator Bill Proxmire (D-WI), who ran statewide but only totaled about $1,000 for his nominating petitions and a handful of other expenses.
Instead, Ryan has decided to make himself beholden to some of the biggest corporate interests in America. FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) poured $2.8 million into his races over the years so he could go mano-a-mano with the likes of John Heckenlively, an unemployed reporter who spent exactly $0 in his 2010 run against Ryan.
Today, the House Budget Chairman is one of the top political fundraisers in Congress. Ryan has $5.4 million in his campaign account, about $2 million more than the next highest House member.
So, who is ladling on the dough?
The answer is the firms that would benefit the most if Ryan's plans to privatize Medicare and repeal Wall Street reform were to go forward -- plus a little bit of Koch.
The insurance industry and its employees have given $815,328 to Ryan's election efforts over his career, more than any other industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The insurance industry would be the big winner if Ryan's plans to turn Medicare into a voucher system move forward.
While most developed nations have found a way to pay for health care for all their citizens, the United States is only able to provide low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage for seniors. With a new study out showing that half of Americans die with no financial assets, Medicare is literally a life saver for millions of seniors and their children who often cannot afford to take care of their elderly parents without the government's help.
Ryan's proposed 2013 budget would replace this system with one that provides a government voucher to force families to purchase insurance on the private market. If the insurance company decides it can't or won't cover all your needs, tough luck.
No wonder Republicans are working so hard to disenfranchise elderly voters with a variety of voter suppression proposals.
Out-of-state Wall Street banks, securities and investment firms are second in industry donations to Ryan giving him a total of $748,824 throughout his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This election cycle, Wells Fargo, UBS, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America are among Ryan's top contributors. In 2012, Wells Fargo bank gave Ryan $12,150 while at the same time busily participating in an "explosion" of foreclosures in Ryan's district.
Ryan not only voted for the $800 billion TARP bank bailout, he used his reputation as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and one of Congress' supposed bright lights to persuade his colleagues to do the same. "If we fail to do the right thing, heaven help us -- if we fail to pass this I fear the worst is yet to come," Ryan warned his colleagues in a clip that was featured in Michael Moore's movie "Capitalism a Love Story."
But Ryan is not done helping out the Wall Street firms. His 2013 budget proposal would repeal aspects of the Dodd-Frank bill, which would allow the government to designate non-banks (like insurance firm AIG) as "systemically significant" and subject to new rules, such as the one that allows FDIC to break up or dissolve these "too big to fail" institutions in a crisis.
Koch Industries has been one of Ryan's top contributors throughout his career according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company's PAC and employees have given him $65,000 in donations during his Congressional career. This makes Koch Ryan's biggest energy-related donor.
The Koch's political arm Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has also embraced Ryan. Ryan has made dozens of appearances at AFP events and rallies in Wisconsin and in Washington, DC. In 2008, he was granted the Wisconsin AFP chapter's "Defending the American Dream" award, handed to him by then County Executive Scott Walker. AFP touted their ties to Ryan while applauding his ascent into the limelight as Mitt Romney's VP pick: "We have been proud to work with him on restoring economic freedom to our nation."
As part of this "economic freedom" Ryan's proposed budget retained some $40 billion in tax breaks for big energy companies while completely eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit for the poor at a time when poverty in the United States was skyrocketing. In 2010, the EITC lifted about 6 million people out of poverty, including about 3 million children.
The search for unneeded campaign contributions has landed Ryan in hot water at times. He was featured in the weekend's Washington Post in a complicated tale of how he helped a campaign contributor ($60,000) with a scheme to start a casino by personally calling federal regulators and advocating on his behalf, even though he thought the casino was a bad idea. Ryan also sponsored a bill to help the guy's trucking business. The contributor was jailed by federal prosecutors as was one of his associates who illegally funneled more than $250,000 in political contributions through relatives to candidates, including Ryan.
While to many Americans Ryan might appear to be a fresh face on the political scene, he plays an old brand of politics.
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